There is another fellowship group that calls themselves an SLAA meeting and is in a city outside the area that is not a part of our local intergroup. This group/meeting is also not listed on the FWS website. They practice an assertive method of recovery based on the AA big book and utilize a 4-hour/1 month method for working the Steps. Members of that group have been coming to our local Zoom meetings to recruit members for their Zoom meetings.
My concerns are two-fold. First, they are not officially an SLAA-FWS group since they are not a part of their local Augustine SLAA-FWS intergroup or registered with FWS. Second, they are misrepresenting themselves in our local Zoom meetings as a SLAA-FWS member when they are not actually one. They are a separate SLAA fellowship of it’s own.
How do the Steps, Traditions and Concepts apply to this situation?
There is no such thing as an “official” SLAA or SLAA-FWS meeting. The Tradition is clear “Any two or more persons gathered together for mutual aid in recovering from sex and love addiction may call themselves an S.L.A.A. group.” We do not control who is in or who is out. A SLAA group is a group if it says it is, no matter if it is listed on any roster or meeting list, no matter if it contributes money or it doesn’t.
We are not organized. Our service bodies — including FWS, including Intergroups — are not governing bodies. We do not give orders. We do not set these kinds of boundaries. We make Step Twelve work possible through our service bodies; we do not determine who is part of the Fellowship and who isn’t. The spirit of the Steps, Traditions, and Concepts are embodied in the idea that “our membership ought to include all who suffer from our disease.”
From an individual perspective any person who has a desire to stop acting out or acting in can declare themselves a member of our Fellowship. There is no vetting, no membership application, nor any requirement other than the desire to stop.
We are asked to look for the similarities not the differences.
The idea that some members are “ours” and a rival group is trying to “recruit” them for a separate fellowship is terrifically flawed. If there is a program — no matter how wacky it may seem — that is based on the Twelve Steps and can lead an addict to sobriety, a program that can help maintain sobriety, then please let’s be free to announce it at our meetings. If it’s attractive and works then all the better. Our meeting, our program, will be all the stronger for being open to diverse ideas.
Let’s be open-minded — avoiding the attempt to control the activities of others. Let’s be honest and humble admitting we do not have all the answers; we do not have the only truth. Let’s be willing to try new ideas and also willing to continue practicing what has worked for us on a daily basis. Let’s attend to our issues and not attempt to govern others. Let’s trust our Higher Power and acknowledge that our fear of others’ behavior is a shortcoming we would like to have removed.
My interpretation of the traditions includes each group’s right to get it wrong. And this kind of spiritual anarchy works, in my opinion, because we can vote with our feet—if a meeting is working for people, it will thrive, and if it’s not working, its numbers will dwindle and it will change or die, or it will continue to attract people for whom it works. Much like sponsorship, there are many ways to sponsor and that is as it should be—different sponsees need different sponsorship and it is the dignity of their journey to find that fitting relationship for themselves. This is how the ONLY authority, a loving higher power, shows the way.
That being said, I’ve heard that meetings get “swarmed” by members of this group and that they cross-talk in meetings, which is disruptive and not in the spirit of our traditions, in my opinion. My belief is that the reason we discourage cross-talk in meetings is because that sacred space that opens up when we speak our truth is GOD’s space—and cross-talking steps on GOD’s time, GOD’s message, and GOD’s space. So, while there is nothing to be done on a fellowship-wide level, I’d like to suggest that individual meetings can hold a group conscience and vote to empower their trusted servants, secretaries or hosts to mute cross-talkers, or to define and address cross talk in the format. Maybe to read a statement on cross talk something to the effect of: “The members of this meeting have voted to refrain from cross-talk during shares. In our group conscience, cross-talk interferes with God’s gentle guidance so we ask that you leave room for God by listening silently during shares.” or something like that. Each meeting is autonomous and has the option to handle this the way their group conscience sees fit. Within the guidelines of the traditions, which I interpret as gentle, loving, inclusive, forgiving, patient and kind. What is the gentlest possible way to restore our meeting to order (i.e. our agreed upon format) while welcoming all SLAA members to participate freely and safely? How do we preserve the culture of our meeting without compromising our values, and still welcoming members whose meeting practices are different? How do we lovingly remind visitors to please respect and abide by the culture of our meeting even though it is different from theirs? Can we acknowledge that variety in meeting practices is a beautiful thing, and that it is in divine order for it to exist?
Conversely, ought we be more open to mixing it up in our meetings? Perhaps a group conscience can be taken to invite members to state at the beginning of their share if they would welcome cross-talk during their share! Each PERSON is autonomous! It can be addressed on a share-by-share basis—why not? Who knows? Maybe next time I share I will invite people to holler during my share if they feel the spirit!! This is a real spiritual opportunity for us to look at our own triggers as a resource and to thank these teachers for inviting us to have conversations about meeting culture and to question the wisdom around all these precedents—leading to really rich, relevant dialogue and profound spiritual work.
This issue has been in my mind for weeks. I am on a meeting service committee and we’ve been discussing them. It’s easy to just sing kumbaya and just let them be. In the Zoom era many fellowships from all over the world have crossed paths. I’ve personally had exposure to London, New York, Toronto and heard speakers from even more locations including Australia. It is a blessing of Zoom. However, ever since I heard two speakers from this group be passive aggressive and directly criticize other fellowship member’s concept of sponsorship, dating plans and working the steps, I began to wonder if they are crossing a line. For me the issue is not the existence of the group. Tradition 5 is clear – “carry its message.” The beauty of humanity is our own unique and varied ways of approaching life, and in this case recovery. While I’m about to take a shot off this controversial group’s bow, I will preface it by saying I’ve recommended their meetings, and some of their fellows for sponsorship. I’ve seen people who couldn’t get their recovery together radically changed in the short term. I’ve seen others spend some time with them, but then expand on it with other work in a transformative way. Yes, for me this group is firmly in line with Tradition Five.
However, their message is often, “you’re doing it wrong, we are doing it right. Here’s our WhatsApp group let’s get you a sponsor.” Their message is often divisive, in that in some meetings one of them shows up to lead share and Tradition One feels threatened. The unity of the group gets thrown askew, if only for that day. So, no, my response is not to sing kumbaya and call for us all to hold hands and pretend one of the hands isn’t pinching me or trying to pull me, or the person next to me out of the circle – throwing into question Tradition One.
For me the applicable tradition here is Tradition Four. “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or S.L.A.A. as a whole.” Given that each group is autonomous, each meeting has the ability to call a group conscious and enact changes and protocols to effectively censure, or push back on the controversial message. A group can vote to only discuss and read SLAA FWS literature. It can vote to only invite speakers who work the steps using SLAA FWS approved literature. I personally started a meeting where the speaker reads a preamble before they start their pitch. It contains the words “We do not gossip or criticize. We discuss here strictly the disease as it manifests in each of our own lives; The way our behavior is this day; The way we react to people, places and things, looking inwardly for what our part is, on our side of the street.” This is the capability of the autonomous group. If one of these speakers starts criticizing or blasting a hundred “you” statements they will be stopped mid share and asked to redirect per our group ratified format. Of course, my above suggestions would cause collateral damage. The Big Book is referenced, and even read in many SLAA meetings. There are anorexia documents that aren’t FWS approved.
Lastly, Tradition Five applies because this matter IS affecting other groups. So, I am not personally appalled or disturbed by the question. People are talking about it so kudos to the fellow who brought this to us. As it pertains to Tradition Five, I’ve thought about (we know how precarious thoughts can be) bringing a motion to our local intergroup that we only list meetings on our website that use SLAA FWS approved literature. Probably not a good idea, but it’s a thought. We will be back in physical meetings soon enough. This too shall pass.
Tradition Four provides sound guidance in this situation. Each meeting is autonomous, unless it affects another meeting or the fellowship as a whole. Utilizing an AA big book / 4 hour step process would not seem to affect another group or the fellowship, and so it appears the meeting is keeping with this tradition.
Tradition Three gives us clarity on what makes a group. Any two or more persons gathered together for mutual aid in recovery may call themselves an S.L.A.A. group. This meeting appears to be gathering to help each other with the addiction, so they would meet that qualification.
While I understand it can sometimes be difficult to accept another groups way of working the program when it is quite different from ours, Tradition Two provides good direction on how to find peace with it. Our ultimate authority is a loving God as expressed through our group conscience. I find it helpful to turn to my Higher Power in prayer when I struggle with acceptance of another person or group’s way of doing things.